Disagreement over whether Sviggum vetted Regents policy

by Greta Kaul

There’s disagreement as to whether University of Minnesota Regent Steve Sviggum adequately vetted the possibility of a conflict of interest between roles as a regent and a state Senate staffer in conversations with two other regents.

“Regent Sviggum did not discuss the job or consult about it with either the chair or vice chair of the Board of Regents prior to taking the position. Nor did Regent Sviggum discuss taking this position with the university general counsel or seek his advice about doing so, Board of Regents Chairwoman Linda Cohen and University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg wrote in a joint press release Wednesday.

It was reported that the Board met last week in order to discuss changes to its conflict of interest policy involving University employees serving on the board. The meeting was, in fact, a conference call between regents Sviggum, Cohen and Vice Chair David Larson, Cohen said Friday. The meeting did not constitute a quorum under Minnesota’s open meetings law.

Sviggum said he brought up the possibility of a regent working at the Senate.

“I vetted the policy up front. I clarified the policy with the [general counsel]. I clarified with the chair,” Sviggum said.

The University’s general counsel office will advise the Board as it considers the application of the Board’s code of ethics to Sviggum’s case.

“The general counsel will be providing legal advice to the board as it considers this situation under the terms of its Code of Ethics and determines what steps are necessary to take in the best interests of the board and the university.”

Sviggum told MPR Wednesday that he would not step down from the Board of Regents if the regents decided that his new position was indeed a conflict of interest.